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East's partnership with UR extended 

The Rochester school board is extending the partnership between East Upper and Lower Schools and the University of Rochester for up to five years. A new contract still needs to be developed by the attorneys for the UR and the city school district, board President Van White said earlier today.
click to enlarge The improvements East has made can be replicated at other schools, says Shaun Nelms, the school's superintendent. - PHOTO BY RYAN WILLIAMSON
  • The improvements East has made can be replicated at other schools, says Shaun Nelms, the school's superintendent.

During a meeting Thursday night, the board voted 5 to 2 in favor of extending the partnership.

The collaboration has in many ways been a solid success. The state was on the verge of closing East High School after it spent years as one of the lowest-performing schools in the state. The graduation rate in 2014-2015 had sunk into the 20s, and attendance was so poor that it wasn't clear to administrators whether some students were still enrolled.

The UR began managing the school in the 2015-2016 school year, starting with a dramatic reorganization that required all teachers and staff to reapply for their jobs. During that initial year, the school was also divided into a middle school and a high school. The graduation rate for East Upper is expected to top 60 percent this year.

But not everyone has been supportive of the East-UR partnership. Shaun Nelms, its superintendent, operates almost autonomously from the rest of the city school district, and reports directly to the board.  The district made a sizable investment, more than it spends on any other school in the district, to turn it around.

Board Vice President  Cynthia Elliott, who along with member Judith Davis, voted no, said that she was concerned about the financial sustainability of the schools. In a district with numerous schools that have low academic performance, was it right to give East special treatment, she said.

The East-UR relationship has often been promoted as an urban education "experiment." Lessons learned at East could be transferred to other district schools that need help, supporters have said. But some of those efforts, such as converting School 33 to an elementary feeder school to East, were thwarted. School 33 has since become a school the state has identified as a low performer. 

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